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How do I hold on to muscle in lockdown?

With all the gyms closed, when it comes to muscle-building you’ll have an immediate advantage if you have a home gym or just a bench with some decent weights. I have had many clients (see them at the bottom of this blog on the website) who have made great progress at home.

​But without weights, muscle maintenance rather than muscle gain is probably the best most can hope for. If you’ve been used to training with heavy weights, then a step down to body weight will probably see some muscle loss. This is because many bodyweight exercises don’t provide enough resistance and it’s hard to work the full body effectively.

My favourite piece of home equipment is a suspension trainer (TRX, pic below). This is hugely versatile, takes up little room and allows anyone of any fitness level to get a very effective workout for the full body whether the goal is losing body fat or gaining muscle.

A pull-up bar (these can be installed in a door frame, as above) is another good buy, and both this and the TRX will serve you well long after lockdown is over.


As the loads won’t be so heavy with bodyweight exercises, you’ll be able to recover quicker so you could definitely look to increase frequency and train every day. The higher frequency would help with being able to build muscle mass and improve strength. 

With any new routine, it does take the body a little time to adapt so initially you may still notice muscle soreness (DOMS) due to the new stimulus. This should subside after the first couple of workouts and you’ll then be able to push up the frequency. ​

Many people struggle to get into the good habit of motivating themselves to train from home and end up cutting their workouts short. ‘Little but often’ is the key here – if you’re feeling lazy or unmotivated, a 50-60 minute session may seem unappealing but most people could commit to 20-30 minutes pretty easily. 

With bodyweight exercises, I’d advise taking all your sets to the point of failure (where you physically can’t do any more) to ensure you’re challenging your body. Without the heavy loads, this is essential to still make the exercises effective, especially when it comes down to muscle and strength. 

You can also look to increase the total number of sets you do by 25%. Due to the lighter loading, you will be able to recover more easily. If you’ve got no equipment at all, here are some of the best bodyweight exercises you can do. Make sure you have good form on all of these.

Press-ups/push-ups – Great for working the chest, triceps and shoulder muscles. These can be done on your knees if full press ups are too challenging. Have a wider hand position to focus more on the chest or hands closer together to concentrate on the triceps and shoulders. Do three to four sets to failure.

Planks – Either a normal plank or side plank is a great exercise to challenge your deeper core muscles, helping with posture and overall strength. Hold for 45-60 seconds each time and do 2-3 sets.

Bulgarian Split Squat – Use a sofa, chair or step to elevate your back foot. Even with bodyweight, you’ll find these a great exercise to challenge your lower body strength and stability. To make these easier, keep both feet on the floor. To make them more challenging, slow down the tempo and don’t lock out at the top of the reps, only going two thirds of the way up or hold something in each hand to add weight, eg bottles of water.

Hip Thrusts – Use a firm sofa or chair to rest your upper back against. This is a great exercise for working your glutes and hamstrings. To make this harder, do this one leg at a time, with the other leg in the air. You can also place a weighted item on your lap to add resistance. 

Air squats – If you’re well trained, you’ll have to do plenty to be challenged so this may be a higher rep exercise but will still challenge your legs effectively.

Bench dips – Using a sturdy chair this is a great exercise to target the arms, specifically the triceps. 

Leg Raises/Crunches – Floor exercise which work your abdominal muscles are easy to perform for all levels of fitness and can help with posture, core strength and overall aesthetics if you can get your body fat levels low enough to see the muscle mass in your abdominal region. 

How a DEXA scan can measure the effects of lockdown

If you’ve had an extended period of no activity (whether through lockdown, an extended lockdown because you’ve lost your rhythm or enthusiasm to get back into it, an injury or lifestyle change), then a DEXA scan will give you a clear idea of how your body composition (fat and muscle) has been affected – but only if you had a scan at or near the time the inactivity began.

DEXA scans (like any measurement) measure things as they were at that point in time, which is why we recommend (see this DEXA information video about the optimum frequency of scans) that you book a DEXA scan whenever there is a significant change in your food or exercise regime. This might be a reduction in activity for any of the reasons above, a new or additional exercise programme (eg, adding more reps/sets in the gym) or changing to a new diet.

If you stopped exercising six months ago but only had your previous scan three months ago then we won’t know the effect of the full six months’ inactivity. But if you want an idea of how much muscle you may have lost when the gyms were shut, read this.

If you’re about to change tack with either diet or exercise, then now is a good time to book a DEXA scan and put a stake in the ground, and then measure progress three or four months hence. If you have any questions about Bodyscan’s DEXA services drop us an email here.

Some real results from home workouts

Here you can see James losing 12.3kg of body fat in seven months, training at home four times a week. James had one set of adjustable dumbbells and an adjustable bench for his home equipment. He did two workouts focusing on his upper body and two workouts focused on his legs and core every week.

All his workouts were focused on strength training, aiming for him to get stronger and increase the loads he was able to lift with the adjustable dumbbells. James did minimal cardio apart from walking 8000+ steps a day.

Laura, 54, managed to lose 8kg of fat in only eight weeks without using a gym or cutting carbs. She exercises mainly outdoors, playing tennis but did two resistance sessions per week, focused on bodyweight exercises and using dumbbells.

Matthew, 67, managed to completely change his body and lose a huge amount of fat in only 12 weeks. He did this using only a suspension trainer, one set of dumbbells and his own bodyweight. (And cutting calories, of course!)

Daniel lost body fat and built muscle mass in just five weeks, using only home equipment and juggling young children. Daniel used mainly a home barbell set with adjustable weights and a bench.

Archie Williams
(former) Bodyscan Consultant